Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Arthur Hailey's Hotel: Lessons Learned

Arthur Hailey's Hotel gives you a behind-the-scenes backstage peek into what keeps a five-star hotel in ship-shape condition. As guests and visitors, we see the glamour and the glitz, the ornate pillars and the marble balustrades, and it is easy to forget the army of worker ants, the housekeepers, room service attendants, cooks, chefs, telephone operators and others that work in spite of relentless pressure, their movements perfect, offering service with a smile. Because even one disgruntled customer is bad news for the whole business.

Since the book cover had the legend, A Master Storyteller, emblazoned upon it, I took it upon myself to study the novel in great depth and learn something of the art and craft of writing from it.

Here is what I learned:

In spite of having a plethora of characters, a necessity when the setting is a luxury hotel, Hailey successfully manages the tricky task of creating back stories for a number of them. The back stories themselves have to strike a fine balance. Too little and we don't know enough about the character, preventing us from investing in them. Too much and we've got needlessly caught up in the past. 

The moment a character is named, he becomes real to the reader. We must know more about him. If you, as the author, don't mean us to get too close to a particular character, don't introduce us to him/her. If you tell us a character's name, make sure that character plays a significant role in the story, even if the role is brief. 

Hailey succeeds in keeping all the sub-plots afloat at the same time. Not an easy task.

There is Warner Trent, owner of the St Gregory Hotel in New Orleans, whose hotel is under mortgage, and who is desperate to avoid both a foreclosure and an acquisition.

There is Curtis O'Keefe, who owns a chain of assembly-line style hotels and who, knowing that Trent is in dire straits, is eager to add to his bouquet of hotels.

There is Peter McDermott, assistant manager of the hotel, eager and efficient, but tied down by the lack of power.

There are the Duke and the Duchess of Croydon, who are desperate to cover up their guilt. 

There is Albert Wells, who is hiding a secret of his own.

There is Keycase Milne, an inveterate thief.

These are just a few of the many sub-plots that Hailey twists around his fingertips all at the same time. To do this successfully, he ensures that the development of the story is arrested at a crucial place, one at which much has taken place, and much that is important is going to take place. Even though, we, as readers, would have liked to hang around that scene to find out more about that character, the author wants us to know that there is something that more urgently needs our attention.

None of the characters are perfectly good or perfectly evil. They are all real, with flaws in their make-up and personalities. For example, McDermott suffers errors of judgement, and has a tendency to get carried away by the good life. Trent is charitable towards his employees, but only because it serves him well to receive their gratitude.

Reading Hotel gives one an idea of the kind of research that must be done in order to write a story fully. Hailey becomes the consummate hotelier, one that knows his hotel inside out, upside down, and can see through the beams and the rafters, the walls and the floor, the electrical wiring and the plumbing.

I was also impressed with the manner in which Hailey expressed the race issue, through Warren's patronising of Aloysius Royce and the matter of the dentists' conference and the issue of accommodation for Dr Nicholas, the black dentist.

The entire action takes place over five days. So you can imagine the skill and the dexterity involved in juggling multiple characters and their actions over the space of such a brief period to ensure that the various events did not clash with each other in terms of the order in which they take place and the bearing they have on subsequent events.

I can't even begin to imagine how Hailey must have set about writing this novel. But I presume that there must have been a lot of research and a lot of writing of back stories, long before the first word was typed.

There are many ways to become a published novelist. But they all involve tons of hard work and effort, with a little bit of daydreaming about being a bestselling author. 

Am I up for the challenge?

(This post has been written for the Ultimate Blog Challenge, October 2013.)

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  1. You bet'cha you're up for the challenge! Your descriptions of the characters in this novel are spot-on. By learning from Mr Haley you can create your own characters and storyline. Go for it!

  2. hotels near centerville iowa Major thanks for the article.Thanks Again. Keep writing.



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